Avoid Getting Swept Up By Fake Charities When Giving To Tornado Relief Charities, Warns BBB

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CHICAGO, IL – In the wake of the recent tornadoes that struck in northern and central Illinois millions of dollars will be needed to help individuals, families and businesses re-build their communities. Much of the needed money will come from concerned individuals who want to help by donating to charities. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois (BBB) is alerting consumers of the possibility of phony charities and fundraising scams related to the destruction caused by tornadoes.

“Tragedies often bring out the best in people and inspire others to give support,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.

“Unfortunately, the aftermath of a natural disaster is also a time that brings out the worst in people, when scammers find ways to make money from tragedy.”

The BBB recommends asking the following questions before choosing to donate to a specific charity:

Is this a charity I can trust? Look at the appeal carefully; some charities have similar sounding names. Don’t be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known organization. Check with your appropriate state government authorities (this is usually a division of the state’s office of the attorney general) to verify the charity is registered to solicit in your state.  Also, visit the website of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (www.bbb.org/charity) to find out whether a national charity meets the 20 BBB charity standards that address charity governance, finances, fund raising, donor privacy and other accountability issues.

How will the charity use my donation? Ask questions about how your donation will be used. Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes but give few details of what the charity is doing about the problem it describes so well. If the charity says it’s helping the homeless, do they explain how (shelter, food, medical care) and where this is taking place?

Watch out for statements such as “all proceeds will go to the charity.” This can mean that only the money left after expenses, such as the cost of written materials and fund raising efforts, will go to the charity. These expenses can sometimes be high, so check carefully.

Is my donation tax deductible? If you want to take a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes, make sure the organization is tax exempt as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  A charity appeal will usually include a reference to this. To verify a charity’s tax status, access an IRS database of organizations by viewing Publication 78 on the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

Can the charity actually use what I’m donating? All charities welcome the receipt of monetary donations, but some also solicit in-kind donations such as clothing, food, and toys.  If you’re planning to donate items to a worthy cause, make sure you know the in-kind contributions your charity prefers.  A food bank may prefer food items that are not perishable such as canned goods.

Am I feeling pressured to give? Don’t succumb to pressure to give money on the spot, either immediately over the phone via credit card or by allowing a “runner” to pick up a contribution. Research the charity fully; the charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.

Another donation idea suggested by Bernas, “If you have unused gift cards that are redeemable for cash or can be used by individuals, ask the charity if these are acceptable as a donation.”

For more tips, visit www.bbb.org/chicago, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or add us on Pinterest.

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